Since It's Going to Burn Anyway

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13; NIV)

I’ve had my bumper mashed in the same parking lot by two different people this year. Both were young people (and, ugh, uninsured). Both were backing up their cars, and hit me while I was braked. One was in a hurry to leave, the other was angry at another car that was blocking them. Neither checked their rearview. My kids were in the car both times, and were shaken up.

I don’t park in that lot any more. I park across the street and we walk over. It’s more for the sake of my kids than anything; my car isn’t going to be around much longer. One extra scratch or ding doesn’t bother me.

It’s easy to look at an old car and know it is destined for the scrapyard, and to adjust your values accordingly. It’s harder to look at the pursuits of your life that way. We invest ourselves in things that mean a great deal to us. Our careers, business ventures, a hobby. The average American golfer plays 46 rounds a year, and has been playing for 23 years. It’s a game that you can play well into your 70s, if you’re not too worried about your score. I wonder how it must feel, coming to what must be your last round ever, for someone who has invested so much time in the game.

I have played golf, but I don’t really play the game, because I can picture that moment. Knowing that there will come a day when I could not play any more keeps me from getting too serious about it. You can’t play golf on rare occasion and be any good (at least, I can’t). It’s not that it’s a meaningless distraction; it’s a form of relaxation and entertainment that has some health benefits. It’s knowing that the extensive amount of time and emotion needed to become good will ultimately come to an end. The implications of that coming moment stop me from investing my life in it.

I don’t mean to pick on golf; I could have chosen any number of things. The point is that knowing the end of a thing changes the way you look at it in the present. It’s true of the things we own, and it’s true of the things we invest our time in. The difficulty is when you can’t envision the end of something, or you choose not to envision it. If you are in denial, you can overvalue a lot of things that have a payoff for the moment but in the end, mean little.

In 2 Peter 3:10-13, Peter paints a vivid picture of the end of the age. The sky, the earth, and the people who live on it—all will be destroyed by fire. How that will be accomplished in physical terms is an interesting thing to ponder, but all that really matters is that it will happen. It will come like a thief in the night, Peter says. Which means, it will be a surprise to those living on the earth. If we have this vision of a sudden and unpredictable moment when God finally judges the earth, what kind of people should we be?

We ought to live holy and godly lives, he says, as we look forward to this day. Not because it means destruction, but because it means the beginning of something much greater—an earth where he reigns. The reason we fail at living out holiness is because we can’t picture that day. Or at least, it isn’t as vivid and compelling as the here-and-now. We live like we have no accountability and all the time in the world. The fact that we may not live to see the day is beside the point; the fact that all of this will be destroyed, and righteousness will reign on this earth, changes everything. We should take a look around and assign the proper value to everything in light of this.

Some things will not be affected by that coming day. The people we love, the Kingdom we have invested in, and who we are in our hearts—these things will remain. But knowing that it’s all headed for the scrapyard—my car, my home, the diversions I spend my time on, and everything else that is only for this world—means I need to value things accordingly. Your golf game might get downgraded to a two (with an increase in your handicap), your time visiting your aging parents upgraded to a nine. That trip you were going to take, to join a building project for the poor in Mexico—that might be an eight. If you are involved in some questionable activities, write those on there also. Those should end up a big zero, hopefully. I recommend you make an inventory and write a number next to each thing. Reread 2 Peter 3 before you get started.

Start circling your top items. These should be things that will last forever, that will mean something on the new earth that is coming. Invest in those. Live a holy life in light of the coming day. I am not saying there won’t be golf there, but if there is, you’ll have plenty of time then to improve your game.

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